American muscle or European sports cars of the 1960s and 1970s are the hottest collector cars right now. Obvious qualities that make them desirable are great design and high horsepower. But which new cars will be highly valued in 30 years and for what reasons?
Walk around the 2017 Chicago Auto Show without the benefit of hindsight and it’s a tough call to predict which new cars will be revered over the ones that will be recycled at the end of their life span. That’s because values are also affected by provenance, scarcity, and whether a car emerges as a “period piece” representative of its day.
“Predicting future ‘keepers’ has a lot to do with standout styling, performance, and/or engineering,” John Biel, editor of Collectible Automobile, said in an email. His magazine has been predicting future collectibles since 1984. “Being the first or the last of an especially interesting vehicle line carries some weight. Sometimes we select cars based on rarity.”
Brian Hughes, founder of Fuelfed, a vintage European motoring enthusiasts collective, feels a car needs to “visually inspire” and have great driving dynamics. “I also feel it’s important for the future collectibles to be obtainable for a determined car guy much like a [Porsche] 911 3.2 Carrera was four years ago,” added Hughes.
Today’s six- and seven-figure cars such as the Rolls Royce Dawn and Bugatti Veyron will be cherished by a certain crowd, but the market is dictated in large part by older people being able to afford a car they wanted when they were younger, but was out of reach.
Some historical trends can be applied today — the horsepower wars and a resurgent emphasis on design in recent years offer plenty of fodder for the next generation’s potential auction darlings.
“We stay away from really big-ticket cars that are out of the reach of all but a select few owners,” Biel said in an email. “Among our picks in the last year have been cars like the Alfa Romeo 4C, the 2012-16 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, Cadillac ATS-V, and Range Rover Evoque convertible. The Fiat 124 Spider, with its mix of likable Mazda MX-5 chassis and ‘60s Fiat nostalgia, is the choice for our upcoming April issue.”
Hughes chooses the Aston Martin Vantage S V12 for its “stunning looks in a lightweight package,” the Porsche Cayman GT4 as “the Porsche they should have built all along … a purely focused driver’s car,” and the BMW M2 because it “brings back the driving purity of the original E30 M3.”
Inexpensive cult classics
Some cars will be relegated to remain inexpensive cult classics but like fine art, aesthetic appeal leads to value appreciation. This does draw some speculators with the intent to cash in, whether that’s a hobbyist or someone in it only for the investment. The game is to catch the car somewhere near the low point of the depreciation curve, as the prices begin to rise.
“Today’s cars are computers on wheels, they are technology driven,” said Harold Santamaria, auto technology instructor at Truman College in Chicago. “Students like that appeal. … They are into hybrid and alterative fuel cars. A Tesla Model S, that’s the image I see on their laptops. … We could see a collectors’ market for the first or second generation Prius or the Honda Insight.”
Santamaria also works as a mechanic for Chicago Vintage Motor Carriage, servicing antique cars. “Servicing or restoring today’s cars is absolutely going to be more complex,” he said. “One advantage we will have that we don’t have now is there’s so much information on the internet. It’s still hard to get information on the older model cars, so the digging around might lessen. But the current technology also has to stay around to do this. We forget about it until the cars become popular again.”
The knowledge being acquired now is what will keep the future antiques going.
“We’re seeing a ‘new craftsman,’” Santamaria said. “They are not working on a lathe, machining stock metal. They are working on a new motherboard. We’re fueling their passion for the automobile. They are the ones who will be working on these cars now, and will eventually move on to restoration.”
Time will tell as to the feasibility of collector car ownership in the future, and if it continues to be a popular pastime. Perhaps the advent of self-driving cars even will inspire a resurgence in the hobby as people long for a bygone era of freedom of choice on our nation’s highways, something that attracted people to the automobile in the first place.
“It’s always best to pick a car you will enjoy driving,” Biel said. “If it happens to become valuable, that’s a nice bonus. But if you’ve truly enjoyed the car, then you will have gotten your money’s worth.”